Ram Setu - The bridge of contention
Fifteen years after the Ayodhya agitation ended, Lord Rama once again hogged the headlines in 2007.india Updated: Dec 31, 2007 18:37 IST
Fifteen years after the Ayodhya agitation ended, Lord Rama once again hogged the headlines in 2007. The big question this time: did he or did he not super vise the construction of the 30-km underwater stone bridge that stretches unbroken from Dhanushkoti at India's southeastern tip to Talaimannar in Sri Lanka's north-west?
Once more the secularist and nationalist sections engaged in furious debate. The secular lobby insisted, as the controversial affidavit of the Archaeological Survey of India before the Supreme Court best put it, the bridge was "a natural formation of shoals and sand bars which took their present form due to wave action and sedimentation over several centuries". It claimed the Ramayana was no history book and questioned whether Rama actually existed.
The nationalists retorted that making assertions of this sort was "an insult to the sentiments of crores of Hindus".
What set off the storm was the proposed Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project to develop harbours and increase maritime trade along the south-eastern coast by dredging a seaway between India and Lanka. This would allow large ships to move directly along the coast instead of travelling around Lanka. But it would also mean disturbing the Setu.
With politicians entering the fray, the debate soon moved beyond words. While the likes of Subramanium Swamy petitioned the Supreme Court against the project, the BJP and VHP organised bandhs. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi asked which engineering college Rama had studied at to acquire the expertise to build a bridge.
In Karnataka, vandals stoned Karunanidhi's daughter's Bangalore house and burnt a Tamil Nadu state-owned bus, with two passengers still inside. DMK workers responded by attacking the BJP office in Chennai, and calling their own bandh for "speedy implementation" of the project.
But soon enough the Centre, fearful of a Hindu backlash, sought peace with the nationalist lobby, withdrawing the ASI's affidavit and suspending two officers responsible for drafting it, thus enabling the court imposed stay on the project to continue. But with the DMK, a central ally, still insistent on pushing ahead with it, the controversy is bound to erupt again soon.